Maternity leave in India stands increased to 26 weeks for all private sectors.
India has already transitioned to a nuclear family approach; it is challenging to have help from home. Moreover, couples have shifted from their hometowns for corporate jobs across different locations. The concern with starting a family and transitioning the pregnancy process is a phase that brings many questions. However, working couples, as well as expectant mothers, should know the Maternity Leave. Maternity leave in India is a paid leave of absence from work that allows women employees the benefit of taking care of their newly born, and at the same time retain their jobs. India is a developing country, and the first Maternity leave Act was established way back in 1961 called, The Maternity Leave Benefit Act 1961. This Act ensured women employees get a paid leave of 12 weeks post-delivery for taking care of their new-born. This Act applied to establishments with ten plus employees. The Act applies to women employees on a contract, permanent basis, or engaged with agencies. From then till date, the employment scenario has changed drastically. The number of female employees taking jobs has risen in all sectors and across professions.
The maternity act was subject to change due to social and economic changes. In 2017, The Maternity Leave Act was revised as The Maternity Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017. The Maternity Leave Act Applies to establishments like factories, corporates, mines, plantations, shops and establishment act, and government establishments. The eligibility for acquiring this facility under this Act is a woman employee should have completed working for 80 days in the current establishment in the last 12 months and the paid leave should be calculated based on the average daily wage for the period of absence. The Maternity (Amendment) Bill 2017 has extended the earlier 12 weeks’ leave to 26 weeks. The pregnant employee can bifurcate the leave as post and pre-delivery. Eight weeks of leave can opt before the delivery and remaining post-childbirth. For women expecting the third child, the maternity leave allotted is 12 weeks.
When it comes to maternity leave for adoptive mothers, it states that 12 weeks of leave will be given to adopting mothers. This leave starts from the day of adoption and is applicable for the baby below three months of age. What is happy to take note of in this Act is the applicability of the maternity law for commissioning mothers in the country. The advent of technology has brought relief and joy to many families who were unable to conceive naturally. The maternity leave law here states a 12 week leave to the biological mother who imparts her egg to create an embryo which is then planted in another woman. Keeping in mind that pregnancy is a complicated process and could be life-threatening too, for critical illness post-maternity; the Maternity Leave Amendment Bill 2017 allows a benefit of one month for women who are suffering from critical circumstances like premature delivery, miscarriage and medical termination of pregnancy. The leave for female government civil employees is 180 days for the first two live-born children. Similarly, private sectors will have to ensure that maternity leave is included in their Human Resource (HR) policies promptly.
The Maternity Leave Act 2017 Compensation rules and benefits include i) The maternity leave payment is at the rate of the average daily wage for the period of absence ii) A medical bonus of Rs. 3500 is entitled in addition to the 26 weeks of paid leave and 12 weeks of paid leave for already a mother of two iii) Pregnant women and lactating mothers further draw a benefit of Rs. 6000 under the National Food Security Act 2013. The norms under the Maternity Leave for the Employer states: (i) The employer should not give a pregnant employee difficult tasks, including long-standing working hours, ten weeks before the delivery, such that it might affect both mother and child. (ii) The employer should ensure the health and safety of the female employer and mandates that she should not be involved in any work six weeks following the delivery as well as miscarriage. (iii) The law also states that the employer cannot dismiss or discharge a female employer during the maternity leave period. (iv) In an establishment of 50 plus employees, a crèche facility is to be provided by the employer. When the female employee comes back to work after maternity leave, she can avail of the crèche facilities. The Act also permits the female employee to visit the crèche four times during the regular working hours, including her regular rest intervals. (v) If an employer does not adhere to the Maternity Act, there are severe repercussions. The penalty to an employer for non-acceptance of the Act is a fine of Rs. 5000 or imprisonment which can extend to a year or with both.
This mandate is set to benefit the women pregnant fraternity for securing their jobs as well as having a peaceful time with family in the happiest phase of their life. Maternity Leave Act incorporated in every HR Policy should include: (i) Every HR has to draft a detailed Maternity Leave Policy as an essential document. Every organisation should communicate to a pregnant woman in written or e-mail about her rights and the details thereof. (ii) HR should revise the Maternity leave policy as per the government regulations. (iii) A pregnant employee is by default, exempted from the regular performance appraisal cycle (iv) A provision to make the women employees work from home.
A lot of apprehensions and dilemmas have led to many women employees losing out on their rightful share. Some women employees even quit jobs as critical health does not allow them to continue working during the pregnancy period. In spite of the mandated government policies, some women across the nation cannot avail of the rightful maternity leave. The employer is unwilling to pay from his/her pocket the entire expense of the women employees. The government should make provisions to aid the employers with covering part expenses that will make the employer recruit female employees without much inhibition. Pregnancy is a natural process, and the intellect or working potential of women employees will not disappear to the phase. As a developing nation, where we promote education for the girl child, maternity benefits should be considered seriously and implemented in all organisations with total support from the government.
In Meghalaya, the Meghalaya Maternity Benefit Rules under Point 8 has mentioned in detail the process of appealing for any inappropriateness in availing the leave under Section 12. The appeal shall be preferred to the competent authority and shall be handed over personally or sent under a registered cover to the competent authority. The Competent Authority shall then furnish a copy of the memorandum of appeal to the employer, call for his reply thereto and ask him to produce documents connected with the issue of the appeal by a fixed date. The Competent Authority may ascertain further details from the employer as well as from the woman before giving his decision. In case the employer fails to submit his reply or produce the required documents within the specified period, the competent authority may give his decision ex-parte.
Maternal health has been one of the major concerns of the Government of India. Necessary and required care during and after delivery was found to be absent in most cases. Unfortunately, there are many private and government undertaking private organizations which do not adhere to this Act and provide their employees with their rights in availing this leave to take care of their new-born. Perhaps, the government would be required to take stern action against such organisations and at the same time, concern authorities should monitor and ensure the implementation of Maternity Leave, compulsory for six months in all sectors in the State. However, because of the fear that the respective offices might take action against employees or cause any trouble in their employment later, many such employees who are being deprived of the leave, bear with the offices and do not initiate any complaint, hence missed out on their Maternity Leave or get it only for a short period. (The writer can be reached at [email protected])